‘Glitz, Glamour and Giving’: ACS holds Imagination Ball on the beach

Lance Shearer

This would have been Dick Shanahan’s fifth consecutive year co-chairing the Imagination Ball. Instead, the American Cancer Society’s flagship Marco Island fundraising gala featured a tribute to Shanahan, who succumbed to cancer last fall, introduced by Debra Shanahan, who took on the solo chair role after sharing it with her husband the previous four years.

Over 250 guests filled the beach pavilion at the newly-designated JW Marriott hotel Saturday evening, rubbing elbows and raising paddles to bring in money to advance the ACS’s work combating the dread disease.

Auctioneer Rick Gallo takes bids. The Marco Island unit of the American Cancer Society held the annual Imagination Ball Saturday evening in the Marriott's tent pavilion, raising funds to fight cancer.

A year ago, Dick Shanahan had told the gathering, “I don’t think there is anyone in this room who has not been personally affected by cancer. This is a fight we can all get behind.” As was brought out in the video tribute, put together by Tracy Tirrell of PSAV Presentation Services, he had been active in the fight against cancer long before he was stricken himself. He had been board president of the Marco Island unit, and helped open the first office, and hire the first ACS employee on the island, among his many other civic engagements.

The “beautiful, eloquent tribute brought down the house,” said Sue Olszak, development manager for the ACS.

“Dick’s Irish eyes are watching, smiling down on us,” said Debra Shanahan.

Another example of how close the fight against cancer is to each of us came in the form of 2017 Grado Award recipients Jim and Allyson Richards. Both of them lost their first spouses to cancer; they met, married, and have dedicated themselves to continuing, and continuing to fund, the Cancer Society’s efforts. They received a diamond-cut Tiffany vase as a token of the award, given in honor of Corrie and the late John Grado.

Stacey Deffenbaugh, NBC-2 news anchor, served as the emcee for the event, and brought up speakers including host Rick Medwedeff, general manager of the Marriott, and Amy Hale of presenting sponsor BMO Wealth Management Private Bank.

After a dinner of filet mignon and diver scallops, Deffenbaugh kicked off the serious business of the evening, bringing up auctioneer Rick Gallo. He started off by auctioning a dime – yes, a 10-cent piece – for $600, and then mentioning, “you could get that for $1.60 at a coin shop. That’s how you bid at a charity auction.”

Dinner parties at Verdi’s and the Marriott’s Ario restaurant, plus an in-home dinner by “celebrity chef” Laura Owen of CJ’s on the Bay, a trip to New York and the chance to tool around Southwest Florida in a Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce or Ferrari from Top Gear Exotics Rentals got people bidding. And then Gallo dispensed with any auction items or prizes, and just asked attendees to raise their paddles in a “cash call,” with several gifts in the $10,000 and $25,000 range.
At press time, the proceeds were still being tabulated, but Olszak was hopeful they would surpass the quarter-million dollar mark in contributions from the event.

Moving right along, he ACS Marco Island Relay for Life takes place at Veterans Community Park on, no fooling, April 1. To learn more, or contribute to the work of the American Cancer Society, call 239-642-8800, or go online to